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On the Streets: Aim for Peace, Prepare for War

On the Streets: Aim for Peace, Prepare for War

By Dr. George J. Thompson

Dr. George J. Thompson is the President and Founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, a tactical training and management firm now based in Auburn, NY. For full details on Dr. Thompson’s work and training, please visit the Verbal Judo Web Site.

The most important thing we don’t teach, but should, is a coherent philosophy that can unite the need for physical force and the need to project and infuse those we contact with peace.

The “Peace Warrior” title I’ve used in training sounds like a contradiction, a paradox, and it is. The renowned former California Highway Patrol officer turned risk expert, consultant and lawyer, Gordon Graham, once narrated the story of his police mentor defining the “peace officer” as akin to the American eagle in the national seal on the back of the one dollar bill. The eagle holds olive branches in one talon and arrows in the other. Accordingly, advised the mentor, “Always extend the olive branches of peace to all, but hold the arrows of war ready. Always treat people with respect, but have a plan to kill them.”

We already do a good job of training our officers to use the “arrows of war.” War stories have a significant place in readying the mind of the officer for “when/then” thinking. I’m all for illustrative war stories, and as one who has wrestled with scum on the streets, I know that these stories inform our response to violence. But we often neglect to teach a balance — we do not teach officers tactics to “extend the olive branch” to those with whom we interact.

“Peace stories”, which is a term I use, should be equally stressed and taught to ready the mind of the officer to respond peaceably when possible. Remember: 98% – 99% of an officer’s interactions with others do not end in violence because we use our skills to defuse them.

People should be treated with respect and restraint until they prove they are “wolves,” as Lt. Col David Grossman, U.S. Army (Ret.), author of On Killing, so well puts it in his article On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs:

“The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed.”

I believe we should teach officers how to increase their “Peace Power” without jeopardizing their safety. They should be taught tactical ways of “extending the olive branch of peace” to those we encounter who might initially want war.

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